Coming into this weekend's series, Arizona State head coach Greg Powers stressed the importance of the team regaining their signature "swagger".
After powering through the first half of the season en route to the ACHA's No. 1 ranking, the Sun Devils have struggled over the last 10 games, going just 6-4. That "slump" resulted in ASU falling from the top spot to No. 2 in the latest rankings.
With No. 15 Rhode Island coming in to Tempe, getting that swagger back would be no easy task.
Or would it?
From the opening faceoff, the Sun Devils showed were in full control. They dominated the time of possession, delivered big hits, and generated quality scoring chances. However, URI goale Paul Kenny was more than up to the task, making save after save, including a pair of glove stops that drew loud reactions from both players and crowds.
Finally, ASU's overwhelming pressure was able to break through. A great cross ice pass from Colin Hekle found Faiz Khan at the blue line, who promptly hit a streaking Dan Styrna with a perfect pass that Styrna wristed passed Kenny for the period lone goal.
The utter dominance continued throughout the second period. The only thing more unrelenting than the Sun Devils' offensive pressure was the impenetrable nature of their defense. During the period, ASU outshot URI 18-5, yet no puck that left the stick of an ASU player found the back of the net.
But that didn't mean that the Sun Devils didn't score.
Late in the period, ASU defenseman Darcy Charrois dumped a puck into the offensive zone, and hit one of the many interesting parts of the corner boards. The puck shot out in front of the URI net, off a defensman's skate and passed the surprised Kenny for a fortuitous 2-0.
Despite the lopsided play through two periods, the slim two-goal margin meant that Rhode Island remained in the game.
ASU captain Colin Hekle swiftly put an end to such notions with a dagger early in the third period. After a Danny McAuliffe penalty, Hekle gained possession on the penalty kill and broke free and passed the URI defense, where he fired a wrister over Kenny's glove for the 3-0 lead.
Just for good measure, Hekle setup Khan for a pretty goal to extend the lead to 4-0, which remained the deciding margin.
Sun Devil goalie Joe D'Elia was efficient in picking up his second shutout of the year, stopping all 18 shots and improved his record to 19-4-0 on the year. The ASU defense was solid and ensured he never faced any real high-percentage scoring chances. Conversely, ASU fired 46 shots on Kenny.
These teams will finish the series tomorrow night, with the puck dropping at 7 p.m.
1st - ASU, 2:10: Styrna (12), assists Khan, Hekle
2nd- ASU, 4:10: Charrois (5), assist Hekle
3rd - ASU, 16:27: Hekle (23), Shorthanded
3rd - ASU, 12:31: Khan (9), assists Hekle, Clark